November 04, 2008
You may not realize this, because they don't like to talk about it much, but the SEC has a certain reputation to uphold. It's produced not only the mythical champion the last two years, but two of the top three in the final AP poll in both seasons and at least four (last year, it was five) of the final top-15. They like to think winning that conference is pretty special.
This year, it still is, although a little less so: two of the league's regular powers, Tennessee and Auburn, are enduring nightmare seasons (appropriately enough, after they played a nightmare game in September) that have already claimed coaches on both sides, and might claim another before it's over, while Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina have hardly surged to fill the vacuum. Two bellwethers that remain in the current top-15, Georgia and LSU, have combined for one win over another ranked team -- Georgia over LSU two weeks ago -- and suffered four defeats by an average of 24 points, and could have been much worse in all four games if it needed to be. With the meltdowns of would-be preseason heavies Arizona State and Clemson, the conference's best non-conference win at this point is probably Arkansas' 30-23 survival Saturday over Tulsa. It's either Tulsa or Louisville, the only other team besides the Hurricane in this week's "Also Receiving Votes" section with an SEC loss on its record. Then there are the losses to UCLA, Duke, Georgia Tech, West Virginia and Louisiana Tech, and legitimate scares by Middle Tennessee (twice), Western Illinois, Northern Illinois and UL-Monroe. I hope I didn't leave anyone out.
Of course there's still hope for the SEC's rep, in the form of this year's kingpins, Florida and Alabama, which are one Texas Tech loss and one Crimson Tide win in Baton Rouge away from having a clear path to a blockbuster championship game in Atlanta. In fact, I'm not sure Alabama losing to LSU Saturday would necessarily change the equation for the first week in December, which is setting up as a play-in -- a semifinal, as much as I hate to put it in those terms -- for the mythical championship game. Aside from Florida's loss to Ole Miss, in which UF committed as many turnovers (3) as it has in its seven wins combined, neither the Gators nor Tide have been seriously challenged, and if Alabama puts away sagging LSU as decisively as every prevailing trend suggests it will, only a massive upset by South Carolina, Florida State or Auburn will derail a Tide-Gator SEC Championship to end all SEC Championships.
From here, if I had to bet on one BCS scenario, it would be this: Penn State ascends to the championship game, undefeated, and either undefeated Alabama or one-loss Florida (possibly even one-loss Alabama, if the close is a close one at strong-finishing LSU) passes a one-loss Big 12 South champion (any of them) and very frustrated USC into another SEC-Big Ten title game with the Nittany Lions, where the Southerners chant, etc. That's exactly what everyone wants to see, isn't it? After all: there are reputations to consider.